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Thinking Critically Matters

David R. Dykes

Think critically about religion. That’s what this web site promotes. We mean for it to also promote active resistance to empires. But let’s save that for another time. And, so that we’re clear, we should be honest and say we promote critical thinking about Christian religion, though we stand in solidarity with our progressive sisters and brothers of faith everywhere, including humanists and secularists. We also stand in solidarity with all people who suffer at the hands of any religious tyranny. Why such an emphasis on “thinking critically?” Because, we see so much in historical Christianity and in contemporary Christianity that has denied and continues to deny the importance of critical thinking about matters of faith and practice. Among significant numbers of American Christians, there is today, the prevalent notion that thinking critically about what one “believes,” and how one practices that belief is inappropriate or certain proof of one’s lack of faith. I do not need to direct your attention to examples. These are all too readily recognizable, especially when one reflects on the “dumbing down” of religion and irrational attitudes about its role in public dialogue and life.

Case in point. Notice how the media covers most any religion-related story by going to a Pat Robertson or Billy Graham for comment. Even if the media manages to consult a mainline denominational spokesperson, he or she (rarely, if ever “she”) is likely to be a source that articulates the expected doctrinal statements which never really seem to address anything most of us are really concerned about. Face it, critical thinking about religion seldom makes the cut on local or national news. And yet, the latest outrageous comment from so-called “Christian” tea party politicians never fails to get front page or “breaking news” headlines. The media as a whole clearly doesn’t seem to think there is any serious, alternative “go to” voice. Ask yourself “Why?”

As entertaining as the nightly news can be as we watch and listen to diatribes of Christian Right politicians about vaginal probes, same sex marriage or prayer in public schools, we should not just write them off as “idiots” and hit the mute button or change the channel.

Pay attention. Unthinking, idealized Christian belief, translated into public life to legislate public policy without the benefit of critical thought and a deep regard for factuality is dangerous, toxic and ultimately, damaging to human beings as well as to our democracy. 

I am not charging the Christian right with deliberately wanting to hurt people. That people are hurt by its reactionary fundamentalist agenda is a demonstrable fact. Yet, it’s important to remember that the Christian Right did not make this stuff up. The edicts of intolerance have been passed down and taught by precept and example generation after generation. I think we’re agreed that theology and religious practice can be as diseased as jingoistic patriotism and the Bible can be melded into a most lethal weaponry. When religious belief deteriorates into delusional ideology, expect to see fire and blood.

A generation ago, my father, for whom this foundation was named, paraphrased Socrates to say, “The unexamined faith is not worth believing.” 

But before we get all self-righteous about “the unthinking Christians,” let’s willingly submit ourselves to the first test of self-critical analysis. If there are too many irrational, human-being-hurting fundamentalist Christian voices out there, why are progressives voices so silent?